The beginning of “Big Rain,” an article about Hurricane Camille by Eugene Kinkead, published in the New Yorker on July 31, 1971:
“Man, I’m telling you, it rained. It layered water.”
The speaker, a farmer with worn, weathered, Marlboro-country features, standing on the red soil of Nelson County, Virginia, was talking to me some months ago about an exceptional storm that had visited that relatively obscure section near the center of the state late on August 19th and early on August 20th of 1969. In a period of eight hours, the storm deposited upon the four hundred and seventy-one squares miles of the county—and in such quantity uniquely here in all the state—an amount of rainfall that closely approaches a world’s record. According to a congressional report printed some six months after the event, a maximum amount of thirty-one inches of rain descended. The people at the National Weather Service (then the United States Weather Bureau), while citing their verified maximum of twenty-seven inches, estimate that the entire county received, in that relatively brief space of time, an average of sixteen inches—more than the state of Wyoming gets in a year. If Nelson County’s remarkable rain were dumped on Manhattan, the island would be covered with almost thirty feet of water. Governmental scientists refer to the storm, with characteristic restraint, as “a meteorological anomaly,” but their studies reveal that in this case the “anomaly” was something that by their calculations could happen less than once in a thousand years.
IMAGE: Flooding from Hurricane Camille, 1969 (Richmond Times-Dispatch)